Truth be told, we have enough Zombie Club line-ups to last us till doomsday. Tenement Night, 70s Kidnap Night, Pesticide Zombie Night, Superhero Night, Banned in '81 Night - they're all in the hallowed queue of great privilege. But every now and again we get an idea to push a new release - or in this case a pair of new releases from the same company - to the front of the queue, just to make it look like we're keeping on top of things and being all 'current'. This time, the special guests movies are courtesy of our pals at Shameless Films, whose slogan assures us that they are 'Out with the slick - in with the sick' - a mission statement that will surely make people like us very happy indeed.
First up tonight, we have a movie that has been threatening to hijack ZC for a long time - Lucio Fulcio's sick giallo exercise The New York Ripper. The nominated companion for 'second movie syndrome' is Ruggero Deodato's Phantom of Death - an oddly generic moniker perhaps but hell, we're up for anything Shameless, so let's get on with it.
This evening's Zombie Club was brought to you by Jim, Zomblee and Rawshark in association with Shameless Films.
The New York Ripper (1982)
Plot Who is killing all those young girls, while making Donald Duck impressions, butween the random sleazy sex scenes? Is it the man with two fingers missing, or the genius helping with the investigation? Or is it someone else entirely?
Zomblee Chances are, you have seen The New York Ripper. It's also likely that you didn't quite know what to make of it. What makes it difficult to assess is that despite its giallo leanings, the film isn't memorable for the stylistic conventions of that genre. Rather, people know it as the flick where Fulci embraces his misogynistic tendencies to the hilt and has his killer slice through a hooker's nipples with a razor blade, in a painfully slow, sustained procedure. In this newly released UK version from our friends at Shameless, the notorious scene has been cut, and although on traditional principal I would prefer to see an uncut version of any horror film (as I'm sure we all), the omission of this detail is totally understandable. The scene hasn't been butchered as such; rather it has been skilfully edited and re-assembled in a way which makes it not appear censored at all - I know myself and my zombie colleagues were equally impressed and not disappointed to be short-changed on Lucio's nipple slicing. Despite the lack of that infamous close-up breast damage, the scene's subsequent images will still leave you wretching as the killer slices right through the unfortunate hooker's eyeball in horrific detail.
This dose of Fulci sickness opens by Brooklyn Bridge (where it is obligatory to shoot a scene if filming in NYC) when a dog retrieves a female severed hand from the thicket and duly delivers it at his master's feet, prompting a murder investigation helmed by Lt. Williams (Jack Hedley) - a cop with a weakness for cute young hookers. When another young girl is murdered on the Staten Island ferry, the investigation continues, via the all-too-familiar morgue scene ("Back in the day where you could smoke in the morgue" - Rawshark "Yeah, and eat burgers!" - Jim), and before we know it, The New York Ripper descends into a very seedy world indeed. If ever a movie makes you feel like you need a hot, cleansing shower at every turn, then this is it, as Lt. William's foraging into the murky underbelly of NYC life presents us with frequent urban carnage, each killing more vicious than the last. Throughout, our disaffected detective receives phone calls from the killer, who speaks like Donald Duck, and for every viewer who finds this to be an entertainingly effective device, another will find it simply irritating (the idea of the Donald Duck voice was no doubt a reference to Fulci's early giallo masterwork Don't Torture a Duckling, which TNYR's co-author Gianfranco Clerici also wrote with Fulci).
Having not watched this since my teens, I found TNYR stood up extremely well. Once you accept the barbaric portrayal of female slaughter and the fact that this is not - to such an extent anyway - truly representative of the genre, you can hopefully just sit back and enjoy this sick little puppy, albeit with a guilty conscience. It has more than enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, and the killer is annoyingly smart. What's more, there is more gore here than you'll ever need, and a killer soundtrack to boot. Just remember to have a good wash afterwards.
"No underpants, that ain't clean."
Rawshark Believe it or not, even as a seasoned horror and giallo fan, this was my first viewing of The New York Ripper, and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Was this really Fulci’s most nasty number? Was it really as misogynistic as everyone claims? And what is it with that ridiculous Donald Duck voice?
Actually, TNYR turns out to be quite an effective ”sick little number” (Zomblee). Fulci opens the film with his beloved NY harbour scenery (including a nod to Bronx Warriors) and the first murder of a young girl in incredibly short shorts who rides her bicycle onto the Staten Island Ferry. It’s a pretty vicious scene, leading the coroner to comment on the attacker’s use of a knife post-murder; ”He stuck it up her joy trail… Just good butchery”.
Fulci himself then makes an appearance as the Chief of Police, offering up an amusing insight into the world of dubbing Italian movies (”his lips are all over the place” – Zomblee), and he sets the sleazy Lt. Williams on the case. Meanwhile, back at the live sex show (which goes on for ages by the way), our Quackers Killer moves in on girl two (”Oooh, glassed in the fanny” - Jim), and then taunts Lt. Williams on the phone as he spends the night with a call girl. From here on in it’s a pretty standard giallo affair, but sprinkled with excessive scenes of sex (Oh my Lord! The toe went under the pants!” - Jim), extreme graphic murder and people calling other people ‘bastards’ (”Yeah, great – calling people ‘bastards’” - Zomblee).
So, TNYR - it’s not the greatest of the genre (…Laughing Windows anyone?), but it certainly is one of the most graphic, and sits up there alongside Deodato’s The House on the Edge of the Park as being a well-made, boundary-pushing piece of Italian cinema from one of it’s masters, nipple slicing scene or not.
”Quack, Quack. Just like that!”
Jim Yes, the missing nipple slicing scene being omitted did worry me (you can see the screenshots on www.itsonlyamovie.co.uk if you really want to) as I always prefer to see the uncut version of any flick if I can. For once, however, I didn't worry, as Zomblee explained the scene has a major gore-tastic finale in the shape of a razor blade through the eyeball ("Urgh! It's still moving!" - Zomblee) that's edited together such that you don't feel like you've missed anything. In fact, with both gore moments in the same scene, wouldn't that actually detract from the power of the eyeball splitting pay-off? Hmm, that's one to think about.
Anyway, lets get back to the plot. A girl gets butchered on the Statten Island Ferry then an old lady walks in to a Police Station complaining of someone screaming and someone making duck noises while she was trying to watch Dallas. Lt. Williams is initially non-plussed ("He doesn't know Dallas." - Rawshark), but when a string of gory, X-rated deaths happen across town and he starts receiving quake-themed phone calls, he has to take note. Who is that guy with the two missing fingers? And why is he following around that bored slutty rich lady around with the quivering lip ("She's doing a Sue-Ellen." - Zomblee) who has a strange relationship ship with her bearded husband ("Yeah, beardy man and minx girl have got something going on..." - Rawshark). And what's the connection with that girl, also getting stalked by two fingers missing guy on the subway, whose boyfriend looks a bit like a young Bruce Campbell?
Well hey, all will be revealed and a lot more besides in this sleazy, gory Giallo Fulci classic. I couldn't believe I'd never seen this before, but when new labels like Shameless are knocking out pristine presentations like this one, it's worth the wait. As Zomblee summed up "It's a lot better than I remember, but it is a nice clean transfer, and that helps."
So if you don't already have this, get down to the shops now, you'd be quakers not too.
"I bet my dentures she was done in by the same guy!"
Director Lucio Fulci
Cast Jack Hedley
Alexandra Delli Colli
Runtime 91 mins
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Phantom Of Death (1988)
Plot Michael York gets very old and goes on a killing spree. Donald Pleasance says fuck a few times.
Jim In this flick Michael York plays Robert Dominici, a successful in Italy concert pianist whose wife is murdered in traditional giallo style at the beginning of the film, whence York swiftly falls into the arms of another woman called Hélène, who is soon pregnant with his child. Donald Pleasance, who steals every scene he's in without breaking into a sweat, is the inspector on the case who is also looking in to a lot of other bizarre killings in the area. Who is behind it all?
Well, it's not long before it's revealed that it's Michael York ("Go on, Yorkie!" - Rawshark), who has a crippling aging disease that manifests all of a sudden and throughout the rest of the movie he ages rapidly. ("Instead of the Incredible Shrinking Man, it's the Incredible Aging Man!" - Rawshark). And kills a lot of people, which is unsettling - as Zomblee pointed out "it's weird seeing Michael York as a psycho, man!"
There's the guy who he kills for joking with him about his hair falling out (see it here), the freaky kid in the park (click here) and Michael York lamping a lady (here). You also get York calling Donald Pleasance quite a lot (here's one example), including one scene with flute music where York compliments Pleasance's daughter on the quality of her playing. ("What? I thought it was background flute music but it was actually someone playing the flute! That's my dream! - Zomblee). But the story finally culminates with a showdown at Hélène's place after Mikey decides he can't pass his mad aging disease genes on to any child, and ends with one of the longest death monologues we'd ever heard.
There is a lot of fun to be had in Phantom of Death, and I'm not just talking doing Michael York impressions. The deaths are inventive and gory, and the locations are great although we guessed they took some editing liberties with one of Michael York's jogs around Venice ("If there was a Venetian watching this they'd go 'that bit doesn't follow from there! How'd he get over there?'" - Zomblee). Be warned though, there are hugely long dull bits where little happens except one of Michael York's long dialogues maybe, and at that point it's easy to wander off and chat about random crap. Like, what you'd have in your ideal horror movie, bought on by the surprise dojo sequence, which is a must in a perfect movie if you ask me. Rawshark suggested giant rats and being dragged through a window, which Zomblee explained to us is actually called defenestration.
Anyway, I'd recommend this for giallo fans and anyone who wants to see Michael York go on a crazy killing spree, but there are a lot of better giallos out there.
"Mmm-mmm, fenestration, that's what you need..."
Rawshark ”So, Michael York is a pianist” said Jim in the opening two minutes of Phantom of Death as we are treated to a nice, slow, classical intro as Mr York tinkles those ebony and ivory keys. Then Donald Pleasance storms in shouting about ”a horrible murder” or something and ”blows the movie apart in one line” (Jim). It turns out that the victim was Michael York’s wife who was murdered in a Halloween style slashing, so our Michael justifiably turns psychopath and then becomes very old, very quickly. Obviously.
Phantom of Death is basically an entertaining film, made ever so more enjoyable by the presence of Pleasance and, to a lesser extent, Michael York. Pleasance commands every scene he features in (”DP - the most important actor - has stepped forward” - Jim) and proves once again that he is one of the finest actors of his generation. The fact that he often turns up in stuff like this makes us love him even more. Michael York also does a good job, often under heavy make-up and prosthetics which are mostly good, but occasionally reminded Jim of ”the Old Gits from the Fast Show – meeeurgghh!”.
It’s not quite up there with the likes of Deodato’s earlier efforts, such as Cannibal Holocaust or Live Like a Cop, but there’s definite fun to be had there amongst the arterial blood sprays, cameo spots (watch out for appearances by Deodato and our good old friend John Morghen), the ever gorgeous Edwige Fenech and the strange shot of a weird dwarfish person sitting on a swing.
”I have killed. My brain is rotting”.
Zomblee I'm convinced I've seen that freaky dwarf elsewhere but can't think where or when. Regardless, he's one hell of a freaky little person and Deodato puts him to good creepy use here. What is most unique about this 1988 oddity however is the offbeat use of one Michael York. We all know him as a stalwart of upbeat, traditional pictures like The Three Muskateers, or stuff like Logan's Run and the Austin Powers movies. He's always played...Michael York, and I can see why some folk take exception to that ("He's a bit wet isn't he" - Rawshark), but this is a different Michael York to the one we've always known. He has graduated into the school of dodgy Italian horror which, thankfully, means he's running about the place offing people, beating guys up in public toilets, annoying the piss out of Donald Pleasence no end, growing old very quickly and, every now and then, reverting to his old self and doing all that 'woe is me' monologue stuff. Jim actually treated us to his Michael York impression tonight (by saying "I'm Michael York" in a really nasal voice) and I was a bit jealous I couldn't do one. But I've been practising ever since.
Basically, this is something a bit different, centering around our man with the nasal voice growing old at a very rapid rate (with a rare disease that "affects the brain cells"), and Donald Pleasence trying to snare him. Pleasence, sadly, looks too tired for all this chase fare, a bit like he did in those awful Halloween sequels when he was running about after a crap Michael Myers - even Jim said that "he looks a bit distant", but he does manage to perk himself up for a truly fantastic scene towards the end where he has just lost York on the street, and he gets to run about the place, shouting and swearing very loudly indeed. For those Pleasence fans out there, please seek this movie out for that scene alone because it made my tummy hurt from laughter. It's so great to hear DP shouting "fuck".
Phantom of Death holds up surprisingly well for a 1988 Ruggero vintage. It has a bouquet of aged York with a hint of dwarf, and is followed by a pleasant aftertaste of angry, oaky Pleasence. I'll have me a bottle of that, please.
Director Ruggero Deodato
Cast Michael York
Runtime 90 mins
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Well there you go, what have we learnt tonight everyone?
I for one have learnt that:
- Lucio Fulci loves his killers to talk like Donald Duck.
- Lucio Fulci has cameos in his movies, but that's where the Hitchcock comparison ends.
- Seeing Michael York kill someone is really weird.
- If you say 'I'm Michael York' through your nose highpitched, you do actually sound like Michael York.
- It's great seeing Donald Pleasance saying fuck.
- Shameless are a cool label that do the sort of top quality transfers people actually want to see.
Hopefully we should have the next batch of Shameless releases to report back to you with in around a months time. Tune in next week though for a trip down memory lane to a time when people with surnames like 'Ginty' could actually become action heroes.